As a child, I had a number of ambitions. One of them was to cross-foster a chimpanzee in a human household, along with a child of my own, and to enable him to learn language and acquire literacy. It took many years before I was able to launch Project Bow. I came into primatology through the back door. My Ph.D., from Rice University, is in linguistics. This is an unusual specialization, even for those who work in ape language studies.
Primatolagists come from many different disciplines. Anthropology, zoology, psychology and animal science are just a few of the specializations that are common among those who study primates.
If you are interested in entering this field, here is some information that you may find useful.
Primatologists study primates. Primates include, but are not limited to, the great apes. Orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and homo sapiens are numbered among the surviving great apes. Besides man, there were once many other species of hominids, but they have all died out. Non-human members of the great ape family are in danger of meeting that same fate.
My personal involvement is with chimpanzees. In the wilds of Africa, their natural habitat is being encroached upon, and their numbers are dwindling. In the United States, where I live, there are groups of chimpanzees whose ancestors were brought here several generations ago. They, too, are under attack, as they are being forcibly rounded up and placed in "sanctuaries", where they are not allowed to reproduce.
Many activists believe that chimpanzees should live only in their native habitat, and much of their concerted effort is being directed at making sure that they do not breed in captivity. However, the political situation in Africa is unstable, and it may be that the best hope for the chimpanzee as a species is to be accepted and respected in alternative environments, where they can be allowed to thrive.
Primatology in the Wikipedia
Ethologists versus Experimental Primatologists
Primatologists can be divided roughly into two groups, based on their mode of operation and scientific philosophy. Ethologists study primates in the wild, following from a distance and recording their every move, but they try as much as possible not to interact directly with their subjects. They believe we can learn the most about primates by observing what they do when left to their own devices. Experimental primatologists interact with primates through a series of experiments which are designed to test the subject's cognitive and linguistic abilities in a controlled environment.
Like ethologists, many experimental primatologists also keep their distance from their subjects, avoiding forming relationships and emotional bonds, feeling that the experimenter must maintain objectivity in order to get viable test results.
I belong to a small splinter group among primatologists who seek to form relationships with their subjects and to find out about their way of thinking through engagement in an environment that is culturally enriched.
In later hubs, I will discuss my own work, as well as that of some of my colleagues.
If you are interested in finding opportunities in the field of primatology, here is an excellent resource:
Primate Info Job Site
When Sword Met Bow
- Bow's Development
When my daughter Sword and I first met Bow, Sword was two and a half years old, and we had been told that a baby boy was available for us to adopt. At the time, I was thinking more in terms of adopting a...
- Profile in Primatology: Sally Boysen
Sally Boysen is a tenured professor of psychology at the The Ohio State University. She specializes in numerical abilities of non-humans. She has published countless scholarly articles on this subject and is...